As Boris Vian says in his Manuel of Saint-Germain-des Prés, “Les Deux Magots has been famous for several thousand years, more or less.” These waiters have served so many cups of coffee to writers for the past 140 years that we could produce a Prévert-style list of those wordsmiths (a man who, incidentally, preferred sipping café au lait as he penned his inventaires).


But we are not Jacques Prévert, so it will be a Deux Magots-style inventory with the main character being the café in which you find yourself at this moment.

L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans
L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans


1892. Verlaine and Rimbaud are seated at the table of the café-liqueur bar. In the heady fog of absinthe fumes and tobacco smoke, modern poetry takes its first steps. Apollinaire, Éluard, Aragon, Triolet, Artaud, Breton, Derain, Desnos, and their companions are thinking so hard there’s steam coming from their ears. They seek a cooler place and hang their hats on the headwear racks just behind you. The surrealist movement is born to the sound of beer glasses being emptied.


Hemingway smokes cigars, entertains at his table, shares dry sherry with James Joyce and the Lost Generation. Les Deux Magots makes its way into in the future A Movable Feast.


1933. The first ever Prix des Deux Magots recognizes cynical, witty literature in the person of Raymond Queneau. A conspicuous snub of the Goncourt prize that had just been awarded to Malraux. Prévert, Leiris, Bataille, and Queneau juggle words and cultures. Sartre and Beauvoir reflect over hot croissants. Existentialism is having breakfast. The Mandarins writes itself, a title as an homage to the magots watching over Simone’s work. She wins the Goncourt. Another snub.


Gide, Malraux, and Camus keep the hot croissants at arm’s length. Similarly, the philosophy of the absurd distances itself from the existentialism at the next table. 1951. Vian, elusive troublemaker of the Saint-Germain- des-Prés quarter featured in his manual. His pen makes Les Deux Magots a monument.

L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans
L'exposition des Deux Magots pour fêter ses 140 ans


Pauline Réage. The author of the steamy Story of O receives the Prix des Deux Magots. She won’t raise a glass of water here, much less any celebratory champagne, because she doesn’t show up in the interests of remaining anonymous. Sollers, Hallier, Sagan. Young Françoise moves the older writers as they admire her on the Les Deux Magots terrace. She soon moves many others with Bonjour Tristesse. Borges, Garcia Marquez, Cortazar, and Vargas Llosa parade by for black coffee opposite the local church. Their common spirit thrums across time and space. The South Americans have found their headquarters.


Present day. Dugain, Joncour, and Ruben keep alive the literature celebrated by Philippon, Caracalla, and Montety, the successive presidents of the thriving Prix des Deux Magots.


Photos credits : © Sébastien Dubois-Didcock ; © David Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ; © Collection privée Les Deux Magots ; © Aurélie Gurdal

« To be Parisian is not
to be born here,
but to be reborn here »
Sacha Guitry